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Category Archives: Classroom Culture

Student Gratitude – A Guest Post by Margaret Lopez

I didn’t teach last year because I resigned.  I still feel guilty.

When I moved back to my hometown of Chicago, I accepted a position with a well-known, controversial charter school network in the city.  I quickly found it was not the right fit for me.  It wasn’t the students–they were full of hope and sweet in spite of the adverse circumstances they dealt with outside of school.  It was the system.  

If the ACT was king, a strict demerit system was the reigning queen.  Students were part of a system that didn’t see them as individuals, but cogs in a wheel that kept churning out “College and Career Ready” students, as measured only by a test, and using strictScreen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PM rules to keep the wheels turning.  There was no student choice, just multiple choice.  No discussions, just lectures.  No collaboration, just eyes tracking the teacher.

It was horrible.  So horrible that I made the choice to leave.   I felt like teaching to the school’s standards made me compromise non-negotiable parts of my teaching philosophy.  I tried to break the mold, but received teacher demerits (seriously..teacher demerits).   I couldn’t find my way in the system and struggled to officially make the choice to put myself before students.

I made a choice to leave.  But I didn’t realize how many repercussions that choice would have.  There was so much about teaching I missed and what I, admittedly, didn’t take the time to appreciate when I was in the classroom.   I missed students most of all.

I missed the little things, like greeting them at my door, ready to embark on a 50 minute odyssey into the literary world.  I missed wishing them a happy, safe weekend, then anxiously awaiting their return on Monday.  I missed seeing their homecoming pictures and watching them in the school play.  I missed having class jokes and saying hello in the hallways.  I missed reminding every class, every day about an upcoming assignment and the student who had the best excuse when it isn’t completed on time.  I missed waving to students as we each got into our cars to head home.  I missed reminding them to relax, just take it easy for a night.  I missed the chaotic moments in the classroom just as much as I missed the moments when all the fates in the world conspired and each child was rapt in their learning.

I missed transforming the protesting non-reader into a book worm. I missed adding recommendations to my book list from all types of readers.  I missed students asking me what I was reading and why, did I like the book or the movie better , or which John Green book is the best.  I missed the excitement I felt when a student genuinely loved a book or returned a book that I thought had been lost to a locker or car trunk forever.  I missed being moved by a student’s connection to a character.  I missed seeing my bookshelf fluctuate depending on what topic or genre was trending.

I missed reading their timed essays, the writing in their notebooks, the personal annotations in the margins of their books.  As an English teacher, taking home 180 essays over your weekend doesn’t always feel like one of the perks of the job.  Grading becomes tiresome halfway through the first stack of essays, and builds to a mundane, tedious task quickly thereafter.  Until that one essay…the one from a shy student.  The one from the athlete who no one takes seriously.  The one from the student who actually managed to turn something in on the deadline.  The one that yanks you from your near slumber and makes you re-read it because it is so insightful, poignant, and refreshing.  These essays can be few and far between, but when they are uncovered in my stack of loose-leaf paper, they stir up my teacher soul.  These golden essays remind us of the humanity and intelligence high schoolers have within them.

Can students be whiny?  Sure.  Can they be inconsistent?  Consistently, it seems, some weeks.  Can they be forgetful, even with a school-issued agenda and text-message reminders sent to their phones?  Yep.  But they can also be generous, helpful, and shockingly perceptive about the world.  They can be innovative and resilient.  In fact, they usually are every day.

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As teachers, I think we often see the best of our students, the qualities their parents miss and their peers don’t notice.  We notice their compassion when they offer to help a struggling student.  We enjoy their passion when they light up on the field.  We see their curiosity through the books they select and the choices they make in their own learning.  I missed learning about each student as a member of my classroom community, and uncovering their beliefs, habits, and ideas slowly throughout the school year.  I missed noticing their growth, as English students and young adults, from August to December to May.  What is more rewarding than taking a step back and admiring an individual’s progress?  We are so fortunate that nurturing and acknowledging individual progress is a routine component of our jobs.

I still think about those kids, the ones I chose to leave behind, and I still feel guilty.  I wonder how they’ve fared as seniors, how they performed on the ACT, if they’re itching to break out of the mold and be free in a few short weeks.  I wonder what they have been reading and writing.  I wonder how I could have stayed and made it work.

There is magic that happens in a classroom.  Sometimes we don’t notice it in the moment or it looks messy.  It isn’t graded on our appraisals or summatively assessed, but it happens, in little moments and big “ah ha” moments.  It happens because of our students.  

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As these weeks get more stressful the closer we get to summer break, I want to challenge all of us to remember the good in our students and try to have gratitude for what they bring to us each day.  To be proud of the relationships you’ve worked to forge with your young readers and writers.  To remember student achievements and how you have supported that growth.  To recall, during arguably the most hectic, patience-testing time of the school year, the young adults that make this noble profession so demanding and rewarding.

Maggie Lopez has six years of teaching experience at large public high schools in Louisville, Houston, and now Chicago.  A graduate of Miami University, she had the pleasure of learning from the workshop masters and is on a continual quest to challenge, inspire, and learn from her hilariously compassionate juniors and seniors. 


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Care to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

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Practicing What We Teach, One Letter at a Time – A Guest by Amy Menzel

I’m not always ready for Monday, but I was ready for this one. I had spent a lot of time reading Penny Kittle’s Book Love over the weekend and was anxious to get back into the classroom and spread my love of all things literary. Wouldn’t you know it…my seniors weren’t.

Now, it was “senior skip day,” and I knew that, so maybe I was less prepared than I thought. I thought, “Hey, I’ll be able to give more individual attention to students Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.44.22 PMwho need it.” Meanwhile, they thought, “Hey.  I’m here.  What more do you want?”

It’s not so much that they thought this that bothered me, but that they said it. They actually said,  “You should just be happy we’re here.”  To my face. And they meant it.

A small part of me died right then and there. Likely from overheating because my blood was boiling. It took me a while (and eleventy-seven deep breaths) to calm down. Somehow I made it through the day without exploding, but barely.

That afternoon, I sat at my desk as the building got quiet. When only the sounds of the custodian’s sweeping and my continued deep breathing remained, I opened a new Google doc. “Dear Students,” I began, and channeled my frustrations and feelings through my fingertips.

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I made 140 copies, left them in a neat stack in the middle of my cluttered desk, closed my door, walked to my car, drove away, and hoped for a better day.

I felt better that I wrote about it (duh, say many researchers). And I felt better having calmly and clearly expressed my expectations. I also had a student voice echoing in my head from last semester: I’ve never had a teacher take the time to write to us before.”

Of course, we write to students all the time; we write our syllabi, our assignments, our writing prompts. But I do think there’s a difference when we address a note, a discussion to our students. It’s more personal. I forget about this.

It’s also a way to practice what we teach.

Back in April, Lisa talked about the importance of English teachers being readers. She closed her impassioned post, “We must be readers…otherwise, we are in the business of false advertising.” The same is true of our work as writing teachers.  We must write.

This is a lesson I learned (or finally appreciated) during my participation in the UWM Writing Project back in 2010. One of the core principles of the National Writing Project, the program of which the UWM Writing Project is an affiliate, is that, “Knowledge about the teaching of writing comes from many sources: theory and research, the analysis of practice, and the experience of writing. Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically,” — emphasis mine.

I learned a lot that summer, but the most significant lesson I took away was the importance of practice. Each of us teacher consultants prepared and presented a teacher inquiry workshop and the number one rule for these presentations was to have your participants write early and often. It changed the way I teach. Still, I find that I need to remind myself to write more often.

Now, I know it’s the end of the year. So you may be thinking…

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But I’m all about embracing the constant reflect-and-revise nature of teaching. So allow me to publically commit to writing to my students more–early and often starting next school year.

Dear fellow teachers,

Are you with me?

Sincerely,
Amy Menzel

Amy Menzel teaches English at Waukesha West High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She hopes her unbridled enthusiasm for all things literary haunts her graduating seniors for decades to come. In the best possible way, of course.


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Care to join the conversation? We’d love to add your voice! Please email guest post ideas to Lisadennibaum@gmail.com.

Have you asked students what they need? It is not too late

I am great at taking notes. I am lousy at looking back at them (a lot like my students).

But my student teacher is done with his semester, and am back reading and writing with my students each day. We’ve done a little AP exam crunch — our exam is today — and we are all ready for that test to be over. I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me. Fifteen days to solidify my students’ identities as readers and writers, not just students reading and writing for an English class.

It’s been a hard row with this group. This group, especially my brightest students who let grades motivate their every move. There’s a disconnect the size of the Mississippi when it comes to showing evidence of learning and whining about grades.

Maybe I notice it more because I haven’t been with them every class period for the past six weeks. But something’s got to give.

So I opened up my notebooks and read notes from the class Penny Kittle taught at the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institute in 2014. Don Murray leaped from the page:

“If you understand your own process, you stop fighting against it.”

“We have to respect the student, not for his product, but for the search for truth in which he is engaged.”

“If you don’t leave a conference wanting to write more, there’s a problem with the feedback.”

“We work with language in action. We share with our students the continual excitement of choosing one word instead of another, in choosing a true word.”

“Mule-like stubbornness is essential for every writer.”

“One teacher in one year can change a child’s view on reading.”

All reminders of what I love about teaching writers and what I hope for all my students. And I’ve got 14.5 days before the summer bell rings, and my students leave me.

Recently, I read a great post by Tricia Ebaria titled “One Important Thing I Can Learn from Students.” This part resonates:

Rather than join the chorus of end-of-the-year countdowns, instead of giving in to fatigue (or cynicism), what if we reframed our thinking and asked ourselves: What’s the one important thing I can still do with my students? After all, it’s never too late to do work that is meaningful and important to our students and to the world.

Or how about this question: What’s the one important thing I can still learn about my students? studentswriting

So today I asked two questions to help me focus on students’ needs, and to help students focus on our need to keep learning:

1. Have your grown as a reader and a writer this year? And we talked about if the answer is no then we’ve both failed.

2. What’s one thing you still want, or need, to learn regarding reading and writing before your senior year and beyond? And students wrote their responses at their tables.

Some responses gave me pause. Others made me crazy. Many gave me hope that we still have time so every student can answer question one with a resounding YES.

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“Because we’ve really done nothing in class this year” is my first thought, right? But I have to wonder: Why does this students still feel this way?

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I’m celebrating the word PLAY.

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Hmmm. 

We have to be willing to be vulnerable. We have to be willing to ask our students what they need from us as their teachers. If we don’t, we may miss the point of teaching them all together.

I learned valuable things about my students and how they feel about their growth. This lesson is enlightening and humbling. And frightening.

I am almost out of time.

So we started in our writer’s notebooks. Updating our currently reading lists and talking about the books we’ve read, we’ve started, abandoned, and we’ve finished. We updated our challenge cards and checked our progress.

I book talked Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, my new favorite (I wrote about it here), and American Street by Ibi Zoboi, and let students know I had a fourth copy of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. All books I’d read when Joseph was teaching and was dying to share with kids. Students eagerly reached for them, even tussling over Zentner’s book. (TBH I shudder just a bit when I think about not getting these new books back with it being so close to the end of the year.)

Next, I showed them an idea for their end-of-year writing — a pretty monumental task for teens already dreaming of days out of the classroom. But I think I sold them on how it can answer my question #2.

Multi-genre. Thank you, Tom Romano, and Shana for showing me how a marvelous multi-genre project can light a fire within my writers and let them showcase their interest, their talents, and the learning they’ve acquired this year.

We looked at samples. We talked about topics and research and genres. We talked about how the topics we choose can potentially help us learn the things we still need and want to learn.

We got excited about writing. I think some even got excited about learning.

So with 14.5 days left in the school year, we committed to a pretty intensive end-of-year plan.

I have a mule-like stubbornness when it comes to teaching readers and writers. Certainly some of that will wear off on my students, and maybe someday they’ll look back on their notes and their writing from their junior year in high school and recognize they’ve learned and grown in their “search for truth” as a writer.

How are you utilizing your end-of-year time? Please share in the comments.

Amy Rasmussen lives in north Texas and teaches AP English Language and English 3 at Lewisville High School. She loves talking books, daughters’ weddings (two this year), and grandbabies. Facilitating PD for other teachers making the move into a workshop pedagogy delights her. Amy adheres to the words of Emerson: “We aim above the mark to hit the mark,” and Jesus: “Love one another.” Imagine a world if we all aim higher. Follow Amy on Twitter @amyrass.

 

Want to Be a Better Teacher? Pick up a Book.

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Confession time. Who is with me?

Not long ago, only a few years I’m ashamed to say, I was not the reader I once had been.

I was not really a reader at all.

In that respect, I think I was much like many of our students. A formerly voracious reader with vague intentions of spending more time with good books, but I never quite found that time. I found excuses instead.

I didn’t want to read because “I read all day. All I do is read. Paper after paper after paper. I don’t want to read one more word.” 

I didn’t want to read because “There are far more important things I need to do now. Plan, grade, have a life. If I get half a second to myself, reading isn’t top on my list.” 

I didn’t want to read because “I have plenty of time to read over the summer.” 

I was burned out by work. I was betrayed by years of being told what was important for me to read. I was shackled to loving the books I was teaching.

I had become a reluctant reader.

In this way, it would seem, I was also a complete fraud.

Every day, I would walk into my classroom with genuine passion for my role as an educator. I wanted my students to learn. I wanted them to be inspired by great stories and turns of phrase. If only they would connect with language in the way that made my heart flutter, they too would see the great romantic quest that is English. 

A noble pursuit, to be sure…if one is aiming to enlist 200 some students per year into the ranks of English teachers, the chances of which are as dismal as they are ridiculous.

It wasn’t until I pulled my head out of my well meaning behind that I looked around and really saw what I was creating:

A classroom set to run on my love of a select number of texts. A failing endeavor for countless kids in my classroom.

Trust me. If enthusiasm and/or passion for certain texts was capable of making life long lovers of the written word, I humbly submit that I would have been able to do it.

Daisy’s love of Gatsby’s beautiful shirts, pales in comparison to my love of the irony presented in Nick’s claims not to judge.

Pip’s love of Estella pales in comparison to my love of the tragedy that is Miss Havisham’s crushed soul and engulfed bridal gown.

Two roads diverging in a yellow wood present endless possibilities…to me.

The Lady of Shallot is my patroness.

But which kids does this really hook? The students who are likewise entertained and thereby worthy of my continued energy? The students who will “become something” because they “get it”? The students who are compliant? The students who can successfully fake compliance?

love the books I taught, year in and year out, but you can’t make someone love you, I mean the books you teach (flashback to college there, please excuse me), you can only share your love and encourage your passion for the texts. My passion for the whole class novels we worked with was legitimate, palpable, and just not enough to reach all of my students.

Not unless I helped them see themselves as readers first.

I was far too narrowly focused on the texts I had been told were important and had set about making it my job to make students believed in the importance of those texts too.

And along the way, I stopped reading everything else. Well, not completely. Of course, I still read, but I was no longer a reader. I talked with my students about the difference in those two terms, but I was no longer living it.

I wasn’t until workshop and choice became a big part of my daily practice, that I really returned to my life as a reader. Students would need recommendations for books, which meant I needed to have a lot more under my belt that The Scarlet Letter.

However, this is only part of what it means to improve your teaching by reading.

Our students deserve teachers who understand and live the belief that teaching students to read is vitally important, but so is living the life of a reader and being that model of just how many books, genres, conflicts, poems, and symbolic representations of universal themes (sometimes old school dies hard) can be found beyond the canon.

And that making time to read changes who you are in so many powerful and meaningful ways.

These days, the books I know, love, and share are still classic, in some respects, but they are far more broad than that as well.

I’ve learned the following:

Taking time to read is not cheating

If you are grading so many papers that you can’t imagine picking up a book in your freetime, you are grading far too many papers. Small changes in practice can lift that burden and provide much needed time to connect with texts that you can then share with students.

The tried and true are a springboard

Workshop does not mean abandoning all of the texts you’ve worked with over the years. It means making pointed decisions about your belief in the value of whole class novel work, selecting authors to study for craft through mentor text work instead of reading the whole text together, and moving students to some of the more challenging and classic pieces when they are ready. Build readers and then lay the likes of Bronte, Tennyson, and Plath on them. As options. As texts to achieve, rather than endure.

Without a book(s) in your hand and heart, you are cheating

You are cheating yourself and you are cheating your students. I get so excited to book talk new texts, share audiobook snippets with my students, sit down and read next to them, and even to tell them their summative essays will be returned one day later, because I couldn’t put down The Underground Railroad. Students get excited to then share their own reading, in a way that is only really ever achieved because it’s their reading.

When we share our vast and varied reading life, as opposed to saying these are the few books that matter, we are giving students the opportunity to build the love of reading that captures their hearts and minds with high interest material. Yes, we English teachers find Keats to be a master. Many students, with little reading background, find him infuriating and a reason to suggest that “reading is stupid.”

We must give our students time to read every day.

We must talk about books every day.

We must talk with our students about books everyday.

We must read alongside our students.

We must be readers…otherwise, we are in the business of false advertising.


Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. She is currently reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backmanlistening to At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen, and regretting never having read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. She’ll be taking care of that later this week. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum 

Keep Talking! Discussion with a Twist, a Tweet, and a Terrifically Fast Pace

While we’re on the topic of talk (please see Jessica’s fantastic insights on discussion techniques that build confidence and community), I humbly piggyback off of yesterday’s post to bring you a few more talk ideas.

Some fresh.
Some fun.
Some follow-up.

Rotating Symbol Discussion:

On Wednesday, I made reference to helping prepare my AP students for their test, by keeping our discussions focused on the real world. So…test prep as a natural byproduct to authentic discussion.

We were wrapping up our unit on Community, and I borrowed a discussion technique from my bestie Erin, that I have now fallen in love with. It was fast paced, kept kids engaged (as they not only participated in the moment, but had to be ready to get called into the conversation at any time), and really honed skills of building dialogue, as opposed to just reporting an idea around a circle.

Here’s how it goes:

Students enter the room and randomly receive a card with a symbol on it. I explained that the symbol would determine their small groups (4-5 people). Throughout the course talk3of the class period, we used our essential question (What is the individual’s responsibility to the community?) to guide a discussion. I used PowerPoint slides to project a symbol and that group went to the front of the room to start talking. Other groups made notes on where they would take the conversation when they were called into the discussion.

On the next PowerPoint slide, I might add a group or switch out groups completely. Students spoke for 5-6 minutes at a time for single groups and 7-8 minutes if I had two groups up there.

Students reported that they liked hearing the ideas of the entire class. Often we do graded small group discussion one group at a time; this however, involved everyone.

From this discussion I heard some beautifully insightful comments:

  • As the discussion expanded from one group, who was discussing the binding forces of similarity in communities, to include a new group of thinkers, Priyanka said, “Maybe a community shouldn’t only be about similarities. Similarities cause us to be more isolated than differences do.
  • Later, along that same theme of isolation, Dani shared that “social media makes it easy to isolate ourselves” as we discussed the communities we partake it through our phones. The group decided that social media lets users hide in a way that is detrimental to civil discourse.
  • Alexis, in response to the idea that communities can be strengthened by tragedy, said that community is vital as it allows us to “come together for a common idea that can heal us.” 
  • Directly relating to the essential question, JJ suggested that when “all individuals put effort in, community succeeds.”
  • Francesca was quiet until she raised her hand at the very end to say: “This unit was hard. In other units [education and gender] you could easily point the finger at other people. The problem is there’s. The problem is because of them. With community you had to speak to yourself. You had to realize that any problem within communities you belong to requires that you turn the finger around and point at yourself.

Twitter Talk

Conversations can go online, as well. I asked my sophomores to extend our Transcendental Experience speeches (take two weeks and embrace a Transcendental tenant in their lives, then tell us about what they learned/liked/loathed by live tweeting after each speech and then responding to some of the insightful ideas from the speeches of their peers. Students reported that they loved seeing their ideas quoted and/or reframed as inspirational by their classmates. It gave me time to write down comments, which was helpful. We then had a phones down policy during the actual speeches.

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My AP students will start their #langbreak experiences today as well. Their excitement to see each other’s tweets was palpable yesterday and one student even said, “Can I post something each day?”

Wait. Can you actively engage with experiences that promote self actualization and growth more than once over a break from school? Amen, Lisa says from her knees.

Amen.

Speed Dating (again and again and again)

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The last day before spring break, I had my students speed date the new books in the room. As Jessica mentioned yesterday, I LOVE conversations and the enthusiasm that occur with speed dating.

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Alexis responds to JJ’s speed date selection, imploring him to read the book in his hands, I’m Thinking of Ending Things 

Students get to judge books by their covers or pick up titles they have heard about but never had in their hands.

They get to spend just a few minutes “getting to know” the book and then share their insights with their tablemates.

We then share out by having students raise up the books they are intrigued by. We chat around what hooked them and students write furiously on their “I Want to Read” lists.

The only danger of speed dating? Hook-ups. Students meet and fall in love with books they
want to take with them right away. It makes it hard to keep the pool of fresh titles, well, fresh. I LOVE having this problem.

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JJ challenges back, that if he is going to read her selection, she must read Small Great Things by Jody Picoult 


Lisa Dennis teaches English and leads a department of incredible English educators at Franklin High School near Milwaukee. Her favorite student talk is the variety that keeps students talking long after the bell rings. Follow Lisa on Twitter @LDennibaum and follow her students’ AP Spring Break adventures on Twitter #langbreak. 

3 Types of Talk to Boost Confidence and Community

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My first day of teaching was going to be great, because I WAS PREPARED.

I wrote a speech, long hand, about 5 pages.  It was going to communicate what students could expect from the class and what they should know about me.  It was going to INSPIRE them.  They would hang on my every word.

Forget all of the appalling things I just mentioned–you haven’t even heard the best part.

After I gave my approximate 35 minute speech, and students were drooling as a result of my awesomeness, we would have A DISCUSSION.

Drop the mic.  Best teacher ever.  My students will have a voice!

Needless to say, having never been in the classroom before, my first day was a shock.  Most students did not want to hear a single word I had to say, much less ABOUT MYSELF.  My voice was gone by the end of the day and I was in tears because I had no idea how to go back and do it for another round of classes the next day.

I had no idea discussions needed planning and structuring.  I thought they just HAPPENED.

Oh–sweet, naive, extremely troubled Baby Mrs. Paxson.

Almost two years later, we never have a discussion without some sort of structure.  The structure can be minor, or it can be massive.  It can simply be planning on my part, planning on the students’ parts, or it can be structure that I pull out of my back pocket to maximize of a discussion that materializes out of thin air.  It can mean a different configuration of desks, or a script to which students can refer if they get stuck.

When we teach literacy, we can’t just command students to “talk.” We have to give them tools and materials and practices so that they are building their houses of reading, writing, speaking, and listening on a solid foundation, rather than a shaky one (insert your chosen Three Little Pigs invocation here).

Here are a few of my favorite ways to structure talk in the classroom, that can really work for ANYTHING from talking about books, to talking about real world issues, to reviewing pieces of writing, to students encouraging each other in passions and endeavors.

AVID Strategy, 30 Second Expert:

I learned this strategy through AVID, and it is so stinking versatile, it kills me.  I’ve adapted it many times to fit what we need, but the underlying concept is in the script.  I used this last during our Life at 40 Unit in which students were exploring desired careers and imagining/researching a possible life path.  In order to get students thinking and talking about career paths, after we did a little bit of preliminary research and decision-making, I posted two sentence stems on the board.

I’m an expert about (desired career) because I found out that __________________________.

I will be an expert at (desired career) because I am (character trait), (character trait), and (character trait).

Now, after they fill out these sentence stems, here is where the magic happens.  Students are required to pair up and repeat this script to a partner.  Their partner must actively listen and repeat what this student said in their own words.

Here are some conversations I got to hear that day:

  • “I will be an expert at physical therapy because I look on the bright side of things and I don’t give up on people.”
  • “I will be an expert at cardiology because I have discovered that I can learn anything, and will work harder than anyone sitting next to me.” (Positive self talk, anyone?)
  • (Repeating back to their partner) “I think you will be a great teacher because every time I talk to you in class, I feel heard and understood.  You stated you were a good listener, and I have experienced that from you.”

This is just a small glimpse into the conversations that can happen with 30 second expert.  Students feel silly at first, and they joke A LOT with these scripts, but even so, if you change your thoughts you can change your world.  Sometimes changing thoughts means changing the way you talk about yourself to others.  This allows students to phrase things they’ve just learned or mastered in a way that helps them realize they have added to their learner toolbox.

Speed-Dating:  

We are major speed daters over here at 3TT.  We speed date books ALL THE TIME.  I’ve also found that the speed dating format is golden for a lot of things such as when students bring in their own news articles for an assignment, giving post-it blessings, reviewing and revising writing, trying different mentor sentences and sharing, or really any situation in which you would like to allow students to have face-to-face time with many different ideas and possibilities.  You could also do 30 second expert in a speed-dating format!Structured Talk

 

Socratic Seminar:

I am by no means an expert on Socratic Seminar, but many different educators have different ways to get students talking about higher level questioning in a group setting.  B’s Book Love has some of my favorites.  In 822, we’ve tried fishbowl, whole class circle, passing stickies, and inner/outer circle with a live Twitter Chat.  They’re all great.  When my kids hear Socratic Seminar, they know I mean serious business, so this usually elicits slightly more academic talk.

Ultimately, structured talk promotes confidence and community in the classroom because it not only communicates high expectations, but it gives students the building blocks to reach those expectations and with skills they will carry into the real world!

How do you structure talk in your classroom?  Have you learned any tricks along the way?  Share them with us below!

Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX.  She usually takes on major life events all at once rather than bit by bit, such as starting graduate school, buying a house, going to Europe, and preparing for two new classes next year.  If you enjoy watching her make a fool of herself by being unbearably vulnerable, you can catch more of that over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.

 

Ask Your Students: What is Engagement?

Between the World and Me

A few weeks ago I ran into a brick wall with a project in my classroom.  I promised an update, but what I have for you is so much more.

I took Shana’s advice and asked my students, WHAT WILL ENGAGE YOU?!  However, as I thought about asking them that question, I found myself wondering if they would know what I meant.

All teachers aim for engagement, administrators search for engagement and attempt to quantify it, but how many students have been explicitly taught what it is we truly desire from them?

I set out to do just that last week.  I knew we would be working with three different concepts that I think are frequently muddled in the classroom.

Fun.  Compliance.  Engagement.

I also knew we needed a purpose/audience for the discussion, so I explained to the students that they would be assisting me in writing this blog post.

I never knew it would be necessary to define these words, but as I doled out a different word to each table group, I walked around to notice a lot of the same conversations happening at each table.

What would a fun classroom feel like?

It would feel like everyone doing what they want, being productive, and everyone would be happy.

What would a compliant classroom feel like?

A compliant classroom would feel how school is supposed to feel; come in, get your work done, leave. 

What would an engaged classroom feel like?

It would feel like students being able to choose their paths.  It would feel like happiness because the students would know the teacher and classmates cared about them.

These students have been taught to be compliant their entire educational career.  Sure, it is necessary to be compliant in terms of respect, but if you are ONLY EVER compliant, you’re being robbed of the best part of learning: Recognizing you can push your mind further than you ever imagined.

I want an engaged classroom.  You want an engaged classroom. Oprah wants an engaged classroom.  EVERYBODY WANTS AN ENGAGED CLASSROOM.

So if compliant and engaged classrooms both get work done, what’s the difference?

Engage: (v.) pledge or enter into a contract to do something; establish a meaningful connection with.

Did you catch that?

To engage means to commit and connect.  That doesn’t just change classrooms, it changes lives.

So why is it so hard? Commitment and connection don’t come through passivity or apathy, they require effort and exertion.  They require pushing past the point of comfort (for both students and teachers), and sitting in the pain–not because you want to, but because you committed to it.

As we discussed why a classroom should not be all fun, Andy had an enlightening thought.  He said, “I think the problem is, any time you take part in something, you’re sacrificing something else.  I think a lot of students are afraid to sacrifice their own comfort to make a connection with someone.  There’s always the risk, too, that you won’t connect, and then it’s like you lost twice.”

Sometimes I forget the amount of fear that exists in the classroom on a daily basis.  Commitment asks us to sacrifice the easy path.  Connection asks us to say goodbye to selfishness.  All of this has to take place before engaged learning can happen!

It takes a straight up ninja to pull that out of every student in every class period!

We ended this mini-unit with a Socratic Seminar.  I love me some good structured talk.

PTT5

2nd Period Preparing for Socratic Seminar/Live Tweeting

What is the purpose and direction of our learning?  How can we make our classroom a space of authentic dialogue and engagement? (Question credit goes to my emergency lesson-saver, Shana.)

Zoe said she never liked English until she had choice.  She also said she wanted to do more talking about books in a way that connected with her classmates and what they were reading.

Dee said she enjoys higher level thinking.  What might happen if _____ happened to someone you know?  Would you handle things the way this character did?  What would you change? (Her suggested questions.)

4th period agreed they would like to deal with real world issues, and have choice in how they present their findings (poetry, video, podcast, etc.).

2nd period explained it should be about the learning, not about the grades, but it’s been that way for so long that they don’t know how else to operate.

Grady said, “School gives you a chance to do something great with your life, but you have to DO SOMETHING to be great.”

Shahin said, “Compliance is a downfall because you just follow orders and don’t think for yourself.  It makes it to where you will always need a boss, or you won’t know how to operate.”

PTT1PTT4

PTT2PTT6

Listening most often leads to learning, and I sure learned a LOT last week! Thanks for the ideas, #PaxThinkTank!!

Is your classroom one of compliance, engagement, fun, or a mixture?  How do you communicate with your students what you expect from them each day?

Jessica Paxson is an English IV and Creative Writing teacher in Arlington, TX.  She frequently feels as though someone made a mistake in allowing her to hold the futures of over 100 teenagers in her jittery, over-caffeinated hands for the past two years.  If you enjoy watching her make a fool of herself by being unbearably vulnerable, you can catch more of that over at www.jessicajordana.com. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @jessjordana.

 

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